Debra White Smith
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Debra White Smith offers biblical answers to today’s issues—
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My Elderly Mother is Driving Me Crazy!
Question: Debra, my elderly mother is driving me crazy! She constantly wants my attention and tries to control my life. She calls me 4-6 times a day. I feel like I could spend all day every day catering to her, and it wouldn’t be enough. I know the Bible says I’m supposed to honor her, but right now that’s a hard task to follow. Is there a way to honor her but keep my sanity?
Answer: First, it’s important to understand the emotions your mother is dealing with and meet her on this level before applying some gentle boundaries. Many senior adults fear their children will neglect or abandon them. Fear is a major factor in control. When someone is driven by fear, they usually revert to control. The fear tells them that if they are in control, then they don’t have to fear. Therefore, your mother might well be trying to control you as a means of not losing you.
Instead of responding in frustration, genuinely express your love for and commitment to your mom on a regular basis. Take her flowers (or other gifts you know she’ll enjoy), respect her opinions, and listen to her reminisce about the old days. This will help to alleviate the fear of abandonment that is driving the control.
After implementing these suggestions for a few weeks, lovingly erect some boundaries in your relationship. For instance, evaluate your week and your schedule alongside the things you need to help her with. Designate the times you can reasonably allot to her and stick to the schedule. Don’t feel guilty if you have to screen calls. If she is calling several times a day, choose the time you can talk with her—perhaps once-a-day would be a good option. When you do talk with her, if she is worrying or not allowing logic to guide her concerns, don’t try to reason with her or “make her see logic.” Just listen to her and be kind. Too many times adult children spend the final years of their parents’ lives arguing with them over things that really don’t matter. Your mother will only be with you a few more years, and this is the time you can create some wonderful memories…but you have to consciously choose to create them. Sure, it can be exasperating when she won’t stop talking about the same things; but remember, many times she just needs an ear…and very likely she lent you an ear when you were a three-year-old who talked too much and didn’t always make sense.
But even if she didn’t…even if she was a bad mother, think in terms of planting seeds for your future. In other words, treat your mother the way you want your children (or caretaker) to treat you when you get old and need them. If you do have children, then take the opportunity to model to them the way you want to be treated in the final stages of your senior years. Remember, we really do reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Therefore, it’s important to treat other people the way we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12) because eventually our actions will come back to us.
Another factor to consider is the issue of loneliness. Many senior adults are dreadfully lonely and cling to their children as a means to alleviate the loneliness. If your mother doesn’t have an indoor pet and can have one, a small dog or cat can ease the loneliness. Also, if at all possible consider getting her involved in senior activities such as church or a civic group.
In such a relationship, there needs to be a balance of boundaries and grace. The boundaries will keep you sane; the grace will bless your mother. If she tries to make you feel guilty for erecting the boundaries, understand this is just another control mechanism. Don’t give in to the guilt! Stay kind but firm! Also, understand that even if you perfectly implement every suggestion I’ve made, her behavior probably won’t completely change. However, you should see less intensity in her negative actions and certainly a chance for maintaining more structure and stability in your life.
As for the Bible teaching you to honor your mother, any time we start quoting the Bible, it’s important that we look at how the Bible addresses both sides of a situation. While the Bible does tell children to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12), it also admonishes fathers (or in this case, mothers) not to exasperate their children (Ephesians 6:4). When parents do exasperate their adult children, it’s perfectly acceptable for adult children to graciously place boundaries on the relationship to ensure a greater environment for harmony. Remember, you should not be expected to sacrifice your sanity and the other relationships you have, such as those with your friends, spouse, and children. God calls us to maintain a healthy balance in all we do, including caring for aging parents.
The author of 53 books, Debra White Smith has over one million books in print worldwide and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com.
Got a problem? E-mail Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org